Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Kevin Huffman is named Commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Education

STOP THE PRESSES!  Continuing the pattern (albeit a nascent one) of ed reformers coming into positions of real power, Kevin Huffman, Teach For America's Executive Vice President of Public Affairs (and a former teacher, lawyer, and husband of Michelle Rhee), was just appointed Commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Education.  Here's what I sent around about him last month:


Washington Post columnist (and Exec VP of Public Affairs for TFA) Kevin Huffman wrote a brilliant op ed entitled 'A Rosa Parks moment for education' ( about the women in Ohio who was jailed for trying to give her kids a chance in life by sneaking them into a better school.  Here's the email Kevin sent out yesterday in which he comments about the incredible response he's gotten to his column:


I wanted to just note some quick thoughts. First, many thanks to everyone who pushed the column out through email, Facebook, Twitter, etc., and many thanks to people who sent notes. It makes a huge difference. This was - by a large margin - my most widely read piece and was my first piece to be number one on the op-ed page. Also, to date, more than 2,200 people have shared it on Facebook from the Post site.


I read a lot of emails yesterday, and was struck by a couple of things.


The practice of lying/cheating/maneuvering in order to get kids into a better school is incredibly commonplace, among both low-income and middle-class people. I was stunned at the sheer volume of people who had a story about friends, neighbors and relatives.


Second, there is a huge appetite for discussion about inequity in our education system. It can be disheartening to spend time in the blogosphere and comments sections of websites, but the emails I read from strangers were inspiring and gave me a window into the broad appetite to engage in taking on issues of poverty and educational equity.


PS--I did an online chat for the Post today, to follow up on yesterday's column:


Here's the opening of his column:

Last week, 40-year-old Ohio mother Kelley Williams-Bolar was released after serving nine days in jail on a felony conviction for tampering with records. Williams-Bolar's offense? Lying about her address so her two daughters, zoned to the lousy Akron city schools, could attend better schools in the neighboring Copley-Fairlawn district.

Williams-Bolar has become a cause célèbre in a case that crosses traditional ideological bounds. African American activists are outraged, asking: Would a white mother face the same punishment for trying to get her kids a better education? (Answer: No.)

Meanwhile, conservatives view the case as evidence of the need for broader school choice. What does it say when parents' options are so limited that they commit felonies to avoid terrible schools? Commentator Kyle Olson and others across the political spectrum have called this "a Rosa Parks moment for education."

For me, the case struck an additional nerve. As a young teacher nearly two decades ago, I taught bilingual first grade in Houston. Some of my students were in this country illegally; by my third year, a number of them also lived outside the school and district zone. Given their substandard neighborhood options, some parents drove 30 minutes or more each way just so their kids could be in my class. I was supportive of, and flattered by, their efforts. These were good parents, doing the best they could for their families.

In this country, if you are middle or upper class, you have school choice. You can, and probably do, choose your home based on the quality of local schools. Or you can opt out of the system by scraping together the funds for a parochial school.

But if you are poor, you're out of luck, subject to the generally anti-choice bureaucracy. Hoping to win the lottery into an open enrollment "choice" school in your district? Good luck. How about a high-performing charter school? Sure - if your state doesn't limit their numbers and funding like most states do. And vouchers? Hiss! You just touched a political third rail.

Williams-Bolar lived in subsidized housing and was trapped in a failed system. In a Kafkaesque twist, she was taking college-level courses to become a teacher herself - a dream she now will never realize as a convicted felon. It's America's version of the hungry man stealing bread to feed his family, only to have his hand cut off as punishment.

I asked Kevin if he wanted me to include anything when I announced this and he replied:


Yeah, I'm hiring. :) Looking for smart, hard-working people who believe deeply in the potential of kids. Summer positions as well as full-time. Data, Race to the Top, political will - all the pieces are in place. Who wants to join? My email address for resumes is


Below is the press release:


Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam today announced Kevin Huffman, Teach For America's Executive Vice President of Public Affairs, as Commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Education.


Gov. Haslam conducted a nationwide search and consulted many in the education field to find the right candidate to take advantage of state opportunities to transform Tennessee's education system.


"I put a special effort into finding the right fit for Education Commissioner, and I'm very excited to announce today that Kevin Huffman will become Tennessee's Commissioner of Education," Haslam said. "Kevin combines the experience of having been a bilingual first and second-grade teacher to helping oversee a national organization with 1,400 full-time employees and a budget of $212 million.


…"I'm incredibly inspired about the opportunity in Tennessee right now. We have the best data system in the country and an alignment around a plan with Race to the Top – an alignment that is bipartisan spanning a Democratic and Republican administration," Huffman said. "My professional focus has always been on expanding opportunities for kids, and I can't think of a better way to do that than in this role.

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